Persuasion That Sticks

17.05.2016 |

Episode #7 of the course The psychology of persuasion by Jake Teeny


For most persuasion attempts, any attitude change is hoped to last a while. For example, a marketing team doesn’t only want to convince you to buy their product once; they want to convince you to buy it (and related products) multiple times. Accomplishing this, though, depends on how deeply you’re paying attention to the persuasive message.

In the second lesson in this series, we discussed the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), which describes how you can be persuaded when thinking only a little about the message (low elaboration) or thinking a lot about the message (high elaboration).

In general, if you’re persuaded while not thinking deeply about the message, such an attitude change is usually temporary. However, research on the sleeper effect shows how such persuasion can still exert an effect much later.

Imagine for a moment you hear from a friend that eating tomatoes can reduce your chance for sunburn. Although you’re not really paying attention to the message, maybe you’re mildly persuaded because you like tomatoes. However, research shows that if you were asked about this fact a couple weeks later, you would now be strongly convinced of it.

But how does that happen?

Over time, we tend to disassociate the source of a persuasive message with the content of that message. For example, we remember that eating tomatoes can reduce your chances for sunburn, but we don’t remember where we heard it. Thus, only knowing that we were persuaded (but not how we were persuaded) means we remain convinced of it at a later date.

On the other hand, though, if you had been paying close attention to your friend’s message, maybe you’d be convinced for logical, sound reasons. This type of persuasion tends to be long-lasting, as you have spent time elaborating on the message and now truly believe it.

However, this now makes you prone to the perseverance effect.

This psychological phenomenon occurs when you are first convinced of something while thinking deeply, and later, in the face of true contradictory evidence, you still hold to your initial belief.

For example, when Vibrams (toe-shoes) first came out, many people were persuaded by the wealth of videos and articles advocating their benefits. However, a few years later, actual empirical evidence showed that the shoes had zero benefit for your physiology.

But even still, people who were originally convinced of the shoes’ benefits remain convinced—even when solid evidence proves otherwise.

Part of the reason this occurs is because after being persuaded so thoroughly the first time, we don’t spend as much effort considering alternative viewpoints or perspectives the second time.

In either case, though, persuasion that persists will only do so as long as you’re able to resist counterattacks. And fortunately, the science of persuasion has plenty of research on how to prevent such persuasive tactics like this as well.

Want more information on the sleeper effect? It has some unexpected findings!


Recommended book:

“Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking” by Christopher Hadnagy


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